Friday, 27 May 2011

Go with the flow

Komezuka, (c) William Cho

God's overflowing kindness reaches us as if the world is an inverted bowl. 

[Stop: stretchy metaphor alert - no need to call the flat earth society.] We tend to try desperately to stay in a shallow pool of gracieness at the top (wondering why it keeps spilling over the sides) - because it's nicer at the top, right? We'd prefer to call those from the rim and plains up to join us on the top basking in the view. Or at least, let's make sure our position's secure: hammer in a few pins to hold on to our supreme comforts and values, and then make some trips abseiling down the side to drag up a few. 

While God's grace flows unceasingly down to the edges.

Trouble is, God likes to show his love through his people. So if we resist rolling with his abundant flow of grace downhill where we may not feel so comfortable, how's it going to get there? 
Roger Carswell reflects on this dynamic applied to less reached people in the UK, in Not listening to God?

And I'm looking forward to the videos of the recent Reaching The Unreached conference; for now, Neil Robbie has posted his notes from the sessions.


Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Avoiding saying silly things

Apparently, a new app has been developed to Stop One Saying Silly Self-Important Things (SOS-IT).

Some years ago, Phyllis Tickle likened Brian McLaren to Luther and the Emergent Church to the kind of paradigm shift that happens only once a millennium. The amazing thing was not that she said this; in a world shaped by the continual escalation of sales rhetoric, this kind of language is to be expected in advertising. No. What was truly amazing was that people actually took her seriously, friend and foe alike. Such people are in urgent need of help to stop them saying or believing things that are very, very silly and absurdly self-important.

Enter the church historians.  [Carl Trueman*]
So, go buy your SOS-IT. It's what used to be called an historian. Or have an instructive read of Trueman's latest, The Price of Everything. He's as sure as a Brit among Americans can be, that 'cynicism is one of the historian's great gifts to the church.' 
To put it bluntly, cynicism serves to keep things, especially us, in proper perspective.

* Not see an amusing irony there, of critiquing self-importance while presenting your own discipline as The Solution?

Sunday, 22 May 2011

'I wish I had your faith!'

Here it is, then!

Q. What is true faith? 
True faith is not only a knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in his Word is true; it is also a deep-rooted assurance created in me by the Holy Spirit through the gospel, that, out of sheer grace earned for us by Christ, not only others, but I too, have had my sins forgiven, have been made forever right with God, and have been granted salvation. 

Q. What then must a Christian believe?
Everything God promises us in the gospel. That gospel is summarised for us in the articles of our Christian faith - a creed beyond doubt, and confessed throughout the world. 

Q. What are these articles?
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended into hell. The third day he arose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Good news of memory loss

From Challies' The Next Story, following on from yesterday's quote:
While the search engines may never forget, while those who capture data about us may never forget, we serve a God who does forget and who places great emphasis on the virtue of forgetting. He accepts all those who turn to him and confess their sins. Psalm 103:12 promises, "As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us." In Hebrews 8:12, God makes this promise: "I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more." And in these things he commands us to imitate him - to forgive all offences and to never again bring those sins to mind.

How can we forgive if we can never forget? How can we move beyond a sinful past if we know that the evidence of it lives on somewhere, waiting to be mined, waiting to be discovered? Can we leave a past transgression between ourselves and God, knowing that the evidence of us remains in a database and may someday be drawn out?

Even today, when Facebook will remember every old boyfriend, every bad photograph and unkind word, every foolish sin of our younger days, we must be willing and eager to forgive as we've been forgiven, to forget as God has forgotten our transgressions against him.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

The bad news of infinite memory

From Challies' The Next Story
With the dawn of digital technologies and the massive cost decreases in storage, it has become more difficult to forget than to remember. ... Everything I've ever said or done on Facebook is recorded there forever; every search I've made on Google or Yahoo is there somewhere. It exists in digital memory.

Forgetting is a natural part of human experience and a natural function of the human brain. It is a feature, not a bug - one that saves us from being owned by our memories.

During the days of Communism in the Soviet Union, the KGB would stamp "to be preserved forever" on the dossiers of its political prisoners. The message was clear: the state did not and would not forget those who had betrayed her. And this shaped the people. It had to! They knew that what they had done in the past would always be held against them and at any moment could be used in prosecuting them. This is the message of our data today. What we say, what we do, the people we communicate with, the things we search for, the places we go - they are all stamped with "to be preserved forever." Our data never goes away. We can never change, never put on a new skin.

Through the long history of humanity, forgetting has been normal, and remembering has been the exception. But with today's digital technologies, the balance has shifted so that remembering is the default, and forgetting is the great exception. And can a world that never forgets be a world that truly forgives? Author Viktor Mayer-Schönberger asks, "If all our past activities, transgressions or not, are always present, how can we disentangle ourselves from them in our thinking and decision making? Might perfect remembering make us as unforgiving to ourselves as to others?"
Tim does point to some good news... but there's only so much you'll read in a blog post, so more tomorrow.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Where is the wisdom?

The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to GOD.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from GOD and nearer to the Dust. 
- From T S Eliot, 'The Rock'.

I am finding Tim Challies' (world famous Christian blogger) new book so very helpful: The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion
[It's also Christianaudio's free audio book this month - register and download - though if your taste's like mine, you'll want the hard copy or at least Kindle copy as well.]

Information is not knowledge, and even knowledge is not wisdom. Yet we train ourselves in a rushed search for information, and take little time to learn towards knowledge, and none to consider and reflect towards wisdom. 

What a contrast with our aspirations as Christian believers: 
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. [Colossians 1.9-10]

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Preference to the least wanted

How about this for a way of doing things? The loser takes it all. And shares it with all the other 'losers'.
I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
Downhill all the way, for John, it seems. He's cut off from the civilised world, in exile, under the condemnation of the Empire and of no apparent use to the Church. Ageing away. The friends with whom he'd shared those few glorious, and puzzling, life-giving years are gone - dispersed across the world many months apart from communication, and killed one by one. Those who believed his testimony are far from him, having problems with each other, hard-pressed from outside, and too ready to believe impressive life teachings from those who'd never known Jesus, but used his name to fit their own ideas. Then:

I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, 'Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.' ...
'Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.'
God doesn't do things by appearance. 
~ To the one stuck on an island cut off from the world, God brings heaven down. 
~ To one the Empire had chopped out of the history books, God reveals history from beginning to end, for him to write in a book. 
~ To one condemned by earthly authority, God reveals himself, 'the Almighty', and Jesus, 'the ruler of kings on earth'. 
~ The one who has been put 'out of service' to the Church, God commissions to take his message to seven churches covering all Asia. 
~ To the one wasting away, elderly & alone, without friends or family, Jesus comes, sharing his humanity, now glorified; the one who called him 'friend': 
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white like wool, as white as snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, 'Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. ...'
God might have given this revelation to anyone to write down and distribute, to strengthen his Church. That he does it in this way, through John, is particularly sweet. The Lord Jesus cares for his elderly friend, side-lined to obscurity by the world.

Perhaps John would have pondered Jesus' words, from a time in his life when he seemed so much more 'useful' to his Lord (Luke 10):  
“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

A Mythologian's Confession

Idealist, perhaps, romantic fool, but I
run Spirit-drunk with Bacchus as Christ's slave
And I as child; and from Valhalla's hall
With stolen flame, turn salt-wet face
To face the misty tendrils of Poseidon's thunder.
Hide me on a crag where spirits, gull-like, cry
To hear his breathing, deep below, and watch
Selene, gleaming, lead his flow, and back,
and forth, bow to stern cliff, and break.
Let woods grow restless at red Mars' descent
And Jove disperse our comedy with joy;
The strangest scene is green and pleasant land
With no half-light, no faerie and
No king.

Were I to move in nymphic harmony,
Then science would declare not all is there:
Ignoring, deaf, the larger part (my muse).
Yet, true, before man's regency restored, 
Unrisen heart cannot sustain
The wildness vast. So, dancing done,
I take the cloak proffered and curl
Up in the heart of fire Samhain:
A live coal unconsumed,
and sleep.

And sleeping, watch
Till ancients all bow to the sway
Of God out-poured, the highest Name to own.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Imprison me for freedom

Batter my heart, three-person'd God; for, you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town, to'another due,
Labour to'admit you, but Oh, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue,
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you'enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

John Donne (1572-1631)